Western Australia’s town of Exmouth was one of the only places on earth to experience a total solar eclipse on Thursday 20 April 2023 and RAAF members were on hand to support.
CAPTION: Members of the Joint Military Police Unit and No. 25SQN conduct a routine patrol on Defence Land in Exmouth as a part of Exercise Black Hole Sun. Photo by Sergeant Gary Dixon.
During the eclipse, which thousands had travelled to see, Exmouth experienced 62 seconds of darkness as the moon’s shadow crossed the peninsula.
Perth-based members of 25 Squadron, Joint Military Police Unit (JMPU) and other Royal Australian Air Force units from around Australia, deployed to RAAF Base Learmonth on Exercise Black Hole Sun to support the Western Australian government in managing the total solar eclipse event in Exmouth.
Personnel from 25 Squadron were welcomed to country by Aunty Hazel Walgar, who outlined the significance of the solar eclipse in Aboriginal history.
She also said a modern connection would be made with the younger generation using a drone show to tell ancient dreamtime stories.
“The eclipse represents new stars and new life in the universe when the Jirndal (the sun) and the Wilarra (the moon) meet,” Aunty Hazel said.
“It strengthens our connection with the powerful spirit of the universe and makes us feel that Mother Nature is healthy, that the new stars from the sun and moon meeting represent new life ahead with our people.”
25 Squadron and JMPU members assisted with security force protection and in the Total Solar Eclipse Control Centre, established specifically for the purpose of coordinating and managing support-agency involvement.
RAAF Base Learmonth was used by personnel from various state-government agencies and emergency services under a Defence Assistance to the Civil Community arrangement.
Commanding Officer 25 Squadron Wing Commander Paul Taylor said the exercise was an opportunity for the squadron to support the WA government with an extra 160 personnel.
“The ADF does a lot of work with State Emergency Services (SES), in often quite adverse conditions, so this is a really good opportunity to work within a much more congenial environment,” Wing Commander Taylor said.
“Between the SES and ourselves, we can ensure the 20,000 people visiting Exmouth for this event have a safe and enjoyable time while they are here.”
In addition to supporting the WA government, RAAF facilitated requests from NASA, the University of Hawaii and the California State University, to use Defence land to conduct research.
NASA program scientist Madhulika Guhathakurta travelled to Exmouth from the US to conduct research, including the operation of a surveillance kite that suspends a spectrometer up to a kilometre above the clouds to enable clearer readings of the solar eclipse activities.
“This is the very first demonstration in which we can use the kite for eclipse observations and as a platform for other scientific experiments – if we are successful then this opens us up to more opportunities for varied scientific data collection being considered,” Dr Guhathakurta said.